Reflections on The John Jay Institute – A Speech

“[We therefore must] find work that only a knight can do – to find a land of trouble and fear, someplace where little children cannot play in safety, where some woman may have been carried from her home, where perhaps there are dragons left to be slain.” – St. George and the Dragon

Throughout my term, and I hope to the amusement of my classmates, I have smuggled a thought or two from the insightful G.K. Chesterton in each of our classes. And so, quite naturally, I have wondered why I should break that habit now.

Chesterton writes,

It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.”

In reflecting over my time at The John Jay Institute, I am left in quite the same conundrum. I am left grasping for object after object. Why, there is that corpus of tried-and true books that serves the core of our curriculum; there is the community of Christianity, almost celestial, between Catholics of differing orders and Protestants of differing ranks; and the Alumni group which has, and has continued, to serve the needs of our Fellowship, be it in the capacity of alumni or professor.

But there is something more I’d like to share, something that spurs one to attempt, as Chesterton himself, a reply beyond the impossible. To give something greater than those afternoon teas when we laughed until we cried, or those evenings when we cried until we laughed. Something greater than merely our unique moments where our personal and spiritual and academic lives converged into community.

That something is the goal in which The John Jay Institute has been established to pursue. They have not merely formed a vision, but have turned that vision into something tangible: an object to be grasped, an idea to be applied, a virtue to be lived out in our contemplative and missionary lives. “It is said that physicians sometimes ask patients, ‘Do you really wish to get well?’ And, to be perfectly realistic in this matter, we must put the question of whether modern civilization wishes to survive.” (Richard Weaver) The John Jay Institute has given a corpus to that question, a voice to the flesh and blood, to go out into the world and proclaim that fateful question to our leaders and to our society. Do you want our civilization to survive, and are you prepared to make the necessary sacrifices?

To be a part of something such as that, something so vast and so impossible yet at the same time most valuable, I will always be thankful.

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